5 Unexpected Ways to Use Fresh Mint

5 Fresh Ways to Use Fresh Mint #garden #mint #cleaneatingGot a mint plant (or two) that’s going crazy? Not sure what to do with it?

I hear ya! Mint is famous for flourishing whether or not you want it to, which can be good (Hey, it’s yummy! And good for you!) and bad (There’s only so much mint one person can handle at a time.). It’s kind of tricky trying to find different ways to use fresh mint when it’s coming out of your ears. I’ve done all the usual things with my fresh mint so far:

All of those things get old, though, after a while, so I put myself on a mission to find some fun and creative ways to use my mint plant. I’m looking forward to trying out these five fresh ideas for my fresh mint!

5 Unexpected Ways to Use Fresh Mint

  1. Fresh Mint Iced Coffee – You know me, I’m always up for a good cuppa joe. So much the better if it’s made with an unexpected twist and an unusual ingredient. (Remember my Lavender Iced Coffee?)
  2. I never in my life would have thought to put fresh mint into cookies or cupcakes, but these bloggers totally went there! I’d like to try some Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies or Fresh Mint Chocolate Cupcakes!
  3. And while I’m baking, I think I shall have to whip up some Cranberry Mint Scones, which not only use fresh mint, but fresh cranberries, too! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
  4. It’s admittedly not that odd for baked goods to incorporate a fresh mint flavor, but savory foods? This Moroccan Spiced Potato Pizza doesn’t have any cheese… but it does have fresh mint!
  5. Another yummy-sounding savory option is this Honey Mint Glazed Chicken. I’m sort of wishing I hadn’t already prepped all my chicken in marinades before putting it in the freezer!


The Best Short-Term AND Long-Term Storage for Fresh Herbs

Honestly, the best way to keep herbs fresh for the longest period of time is to keep their roots firmly planted in the soil, where they will be nourished and happy for several months at least.

But if you, like me, cannot keep a dill plant alive to save your life, then you might benefit from these tips. (Oh, don’t worry; I will persevere in my yearly attempt to kill grow dill, but so far, I haven’t managed to keep it growing for longer than a couple weeks. Yeah, that was probably the record.) And, thankfully, these tips will also apply to a large number of other herbs, if you are also very good at killing those (Or if you just don’t have room for potted herbs. Or if it’s the winter and herbs would die anyway.)

I offer you my two favorite solutions for fresh herb storage (aside from the so-fresh-its-still-alive variety) that I have just hit upon this summer (all hail the mighty Pinterest!).

Short-Term Refrigerator Storage

OK, so this tip has been around a while, and I may have even tried it once or twice back in the day, but then I guess I forgot about it. The past few times I have purchased a bunch of fresh herbs, I tried the method where you stick it in a jar of water and either leave it on the counter at room temperature or put it in the fridge. 

Maybe I did something wrong, but that didn’t work for me. Leaving it on the counter was a total disaster: the bunch of cilantro I was trying to keep fresh wilted the first day, and completely withered away the second day. Sadness. Good thing I only wasted $0.69!

I’ve tried the half-full glass of water in the fridge on multiple occasions, but you know what always happens? I bet you do know, because I bet the same thing happens to you (especially if you have those wired shelves, like me, instead of flat plastic or glass shelving) – inevitably, the glass tips over and spills the water everywhere. Annoying. 

Plus, I find that even if I do manage to keep the jar or glass upright, the herbs don’t stay fresh for much longer than a few days. How am I supposed to use up a huge bunch of cilantro in that amount of time? Well, I guess I probably could if I put my mind to it. But I usually don’t.

Enter my now-favorite tip that I have (re)discovered:

Wrap a damp paper towel around the fresh herbs and place in a zippered plastic bag.

Press out all the air and seal it shut. Refrigerate.

It’s like magic! The dill in that picture is a week old and is still fresh and yummy. I used some for dinner tonight, and have enough for a few more dinners. A couple of the fronds at the end froze just a bit in the fridge, but for the most part, it’s still in fabulous condition. I am now going to store all my fresh herbs in this manner! From hereon and henceforth.

But… I probably won’t actually get around to using all that dill in the next week. So, I need a long-term storage solution.

Long-Term Freezer Storage

I’m no stranger to freezing herbs; I have done it on many occasion. I’ve tried just sticking the herbs straight up into little freezer baggies. I’ve tried freezing them in a little water in ice cube trays. I’ve tried pureeing them and freezing them in ice cube trays. All of those methods will work to one extent or another.

But now… I’ve taken the ice cube tray to a whole new level and added oil! Many thanks to The Gardener’s Eden for this fabulous idea! So far, this is my very favorite way to freeze herbs for later use. It won’t work for every use, but you can try freezing them in water or broth instead if you prefer. In any case, this is a delicious and super simple way to freeze herbs.

How do you store your fresh herbs?

Sharing at Freaky Friday, Fight Back Friday, Homestead Barn Hop, Titus 2sday, Traditional Tuesday, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Allergy-Free Wednesday, Women Living Well Wednesday, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Real Food Wednesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Your Green Resource

How to Become a Gardener {7 Days, 7 Tools: Build a Better Grocery Budget}

This post originally appeared as part of a 7-day series announcing the launch of my ebook, Your Grocery Budget Toolbox. Your Grocery Budget Toolbox is over 150 pages long, each page loaded with all the tools you need to build a better grocery budget.

In Chapter 8: Take it to the Next Level, I bring you all sorts of strategies about how to take your frugality to another level, one that goes beyond the bottom line of how much you fork over at the grocery store. Because that total at the bottom of your receipt only tells you part of the story. True frugality is a lifestyle, and involves active participation on your part.

We all know, of course, that fruits and vegetables should make up the largest part of our diet. But that can get confusing… and costly. These thoughts probably run through your head:

  • Should you buy organic? 
  • Or is it more important to buy local? 
  • Is organic worth the price?
  • Do you even have enough money in my budget to buy organic or local produce? 
  • You understand that you should eat more fruits and vegetables, but if you bought as much as “they” say you should, you’d end up spending your entire grocery budget! Especially if you only bought organic and/or local!

These problems (which, by the way, I specifically address in the book!) can all be solved by growing your own fruits and vegetables yourself. Oh, I know, I know. That brings up a whole other host of questions and concerns, like:

  • Uh…. I don’t know the first thing about gardening!
  • And um, yeah. I live in the city. No yard!
  • Apples? I can grow apples? 
  • I’ve tried gardening before. I stink at it. 

Once again, I address most of these concerns in the book. But the truth? I am not a gardener. Not even close! However, I keep trying. Remember the old adage that says, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” There’s a lot of truth to that pithy old saying, so I keep chugging along. Every year, I start a garden, and every year, I eventually fail. But I’ve had some success along the way (check out my flourishing garden last year before the whole concept of watering began to slip my mind), and I’ve learned a lot from my failures.

my little future blogger, who grabs my old camera and starts taking pictures right beside me

Arm Yourself with Resources

One big mistake I have made (repeatedly, actually) in my gardening career was just winging it. There are a lot of things in life wherein one can successfully “wing it” – trust me, I do it all the time – but for me, gardening is definitely not one of them. My thumb is as black as the night, and despite my mom’s best efforts, gardening does not come naturally to me! So I have started following gardening blogs, checking gardening books out of the library, and looking up gardening websites. Pinterest has proven a valuable resource as other people pin gardening tips that you won’t necessarily find in a book. I’ve collected quite a few of them on myGarden Help Pinboard. I include a ton of links to great gardening resources in the book, but right now I’ll give you my favorite: Urban Organic Gardener, a blog by Mike Lieberman that’s all about how to garden in small spaces. Even if you have a spacious yard, you’ll find helpful information and resources on  his blog, so I highly recommend following it! I made his self-watering plant containers, and I love them! Super awesome invention for a forgetful gardener like myself. Ahem.

Start Small

I have also often been guilty of attempting too much. You should see my massive collection of empty plant containers. On second thought, you shouldn’t, because it’s not very pretty: It’s like a plant graveyard. I’ve learned to curb my enthusiasm and go slowly. If you’ve never gardened before, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll harvest a farm’s worth of produce in  your first year. It’s best not to try, because you’ll only get discouraged.

Instead, start small. Choose your favorite vegetable (you could go with a fruit, but most of them are harder to grow than veggies), find out if it grows well in your area, read up on it, and then plant it. If you have a yard, go ahead and fill a whole plot with that one vegetable. If you only have a balcony, just start with one pot (and make sure your plant will grow successfully in a pot!). Once you’ve mastered that vegetable (What a sense of accomplishment!), then you can proceed to others.

Start Simple

I don’t recommend starting with seeds. It’s cheaper, for sure, and easier to ensure organic and non-GMO produce, but it’s a lot harder. If you’re just starting out in the gardening world, definitely – definitely! – go for the seedlings you can find at the farmers’ market or local nursery. Bonus: You can ask the farmers or nursery workers to help you find a plant that’s perfectly suited for you (your gardening level, space accommodations, level of sunlight, type of soil, etc.) instead of blindly picking up packages of seeds that may or may not grow well in your situation.

Also, I really recommend starting with easier plants. A tomato plant is a great place to start, or perhaps zucchini. Herbs are fairly easy to grow as well (although I’ve found that a little strategic pruning is very useful with certain herbs like basil).

Water, Water, Water

This is my biggest downfall every year, and this is how I always kill my plants: I forget to water them! This is especially important if your garden is all in containers – you must water your plants daily or they will not flourish. And if you forget for even a couple days, the hot summer weather will kill them for sure. If you’re going away for more than a few days, find friends who would be willing to water them for you. Plants require water to survive. It’s so basic, but it’s so easy to forget. (Of course, that could just be me.)

Don’t Sweat It

There’s absolutely no need to stress out about the success or failure of your garden. Unless it’s your livelihood (which I highly doubt it is if you are still reading this!), a dead plant or two is  not going to spell the end for you. Learn everything you can from your mistake (Not enough watering? Too much watering? Not enough sun? A pest or disease?) and try again. Whether you harvest 1 little cherry tomato or a bushel of zucchini, just keep going. The longer you garden, the more you’ll learn, and the more successful you will be.

And just to prove it to you, I’m going to show you my garden, which is doing quite well, considering it’s already the middle of June! Of course, we haven’t had super hot weather here yet, which always seems to do me in. But I’m quite pleased so far with the progress: I’ve even harvested a jalapeno pepper! (I put it in this Black Bean Chili with Avocado Mousse.)

Quick and Easy Cheap and Healthy: How to Become a Gardener Clockwise from the top left:

  • One of my two tomato plants, with 1 growing tomato on it, and 2 little baby tomatoes!
  • Spearmint, which is kind of gangly, but growing.
  • Cucumbers, flourishing but not quite at the fruitful stage yet.
  • Basil and Sage, both of which have been pruned since I took this picture last week. They’re looking fuller already!
  • Stevia – it’s supposed to get to 2 ft or more, and it’s well on its way!
  • Jalapeno peppers – already harvested one, and a couple little baby ones in the works.

I am struggling with my second tomato plant. It looks great:

… but it’s not producing any fruit, and when you look closely, you can see this:

If you can tell me what causes that and how to fix it, I’ll love you forever!!

See? Gardening, like anything in life, is a mixture of success and failure. Keep at it, and the success prove to be worth every failure!

So… get out there and grow a garden! 

What keeps you from gardening? And if you’re an expert, any advice to share with us beginners?

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Guest Post: The Herb Garden

photo by Zbigniew Kosmal

Today, Susan is sharing with us two quick and easy recipes chock full of vegetables for the busiest weeknights. Susan is a single mom of two from New Zealand who blogs about her observations on life at mighty acorns.

I have a core list of recipes that are sure fire winners in my house.  There’s one adult and two (relatively palate-adventureous) children, and I endeavour to get something green into them every day.  My maxim is: prepare and present in 30 minutes or less, aim for 5+ a day (veges/fruit), no leftovers on the plate.
On the particular busy nights, – scouts, dancing, playdates – I often have soup, made with a pumpkin and what ever other veges come to hand.  Pureed smooth with my stick mixer – seriously the best gadget in the house – I can usually get the kids to eat at least a couple of mugfuls, soaked up with some home made bread.
But when pumpkins (and time)  are not so plentiful, I tend to fall back on my micro-garden.  My entire vegetable garden is only about 4 square foot, but along with a number of fruit trees, it keeps us in the fresh ‘5+ a day’ way for most of the year.  The easier and faster to grow the better, and so I have given over around half of the garden space to herbs.  Parsley, mint, basil-mint, chives, dill, rocket, thyme and shallot.  These all grow with hardly any effort and care and easily transform something bland into something  grand with minimum effort.
Whilst I can see the benefits of adding vege purees to food to top up on vitamins, I have been reluctant to do that too much, as I really want the children to get a taste for individual flavours, and also to appreciate the texture and colour that the ‘whole’ variety offers.
Here are two of my kids’ favourites:
Surprise pie.
This is absolutely a cheaters recipe but the children (and me…) love it.
Make up enough instant mash for however many you are serving. I use milk to make it, and then add a slosh of olive oil:
Heat the milk, then quickly beat in the flakes.  When it’s at a smooth and stiff consistency, add:
one grated carrot
a few florets of broccoli finely sliced.
2 – 3  tablespoons of finely chopped herbs (i use parsley and chives most)
half a cup or so of grated cheese.
mix that all through with a spoon.
Put it into a greased pie dish and then stick in the microwave for 3 or 4 minutes – this will reheat the potato, melt the cheese and par-cook the carrot and broccoli.
When it’s piping hot, sprinkle with some more cheese and a bit of olive oil and  flash under the grill til the top is browned.
It will firm up and easily then be scooped out.  Sometimes for variety I put shredded deli ham on the top and grill that too.
The kids will devour a whole plate of this- it’s quick, easy and contains 3 veges. good for all!
in a frying pan, cook one finely chopped onion in a little olive oil. Add a chopped clove of garlic or 1/2 tsp of garlic powder.
Add two tins of chopped tomatoes.
Add at least three tablespoons of chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, chives)
I also add some chopped olives as my kids love them.
Grate in a carrot.
Thicken with tomato paste.
cover and Leave to simmer about 10 minutes whilst you cook short pasta.
Drain pasta and combine with the sauce.

Me and My Black Thumb

I know I am due for another frosting recipe, but even with me and my DH eating a slice a day, it takes forever to finish a cake around here! And it doesn’t help when my previously reliable frosting recipe ended up being not quite so reliable and now needs tweaking. I will commence tweaking tomorrow since the last cake is now down to one lonely and somewhat stale piece.

But in the meantime, I was very excited today because I was actually able to harvest a few leaves from my little mini lettuce garden, shown above. There were enough mature leaves for me to create a little side salad for my lunch:

Let me hasten to assure you, I am no green thumb. I have one tiny little plant in my house that I have, by some miracle, managed to keep alive for a few years. That’s about all I can handle inside the house. I’ve done a little better with outside plants, but considering I have not even a “bit of earth”, a phrase from a song in one of my favorite musicals (see the vid below!), The Secret Garden, my plants are still in containers. My philosophy is that when plants are in the ground, at least they have God to take care of them with his bounty of soil, sun and rain. But in containers on my balcony, the soil is fake and the rain doesn’t fall on the plants unless the wind drives it sideways. The sun has to come sideways, too, so you see my dilemma.

You know the old saying? “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Every spring, I take a deep breath. And try again. I have had some success. Last year, I had little cherry tomatoes. Until I forgot to water the plants – oops. In previous years, I’ve had great success with herb gardens, but something always goes wrong at some point before the season is over. But I keep trying! And I enjoy the success that I achieve, limited though it may be.

Like my cute little salad. It may be the only bounty I enjoy from my little lettuce garden, but it’s something! I will celebrate my success, minor as it is, and hope the minor successes add up to something bigger in the future.